More than a century ago, no one knew that there was such a place called Antarctica. The fifth largest continent in the world covers more than 5.4 million square miles. Situated within the Antarctic Circle, temperatures are consistently below zero almost all year round. The conditions make it hard for life to thrive but some animals did manage to evolve and adapt to the extreme frigid temperatures. While the landscape looks somewhat desolate to the untrained observer, every year, scientists and explorers make their way to one of the most interesting places on Earth.
1. Researchers recover more meteorites from Antarctica than anywhere else in the world.
Meteorites fall to the Earth constantly. It is estimated that almost a 100,000 meteorites hit the Earth’s surface every year. They land everywhere with almost equal possibility but the Antarctic conditions make a huge difference when it comes to finding them. Most meteorites contain high levels of metallic iron; which makes them susceptible to corrosion due to the combination of moisture and oxygen in the atmosphere.
Antarctica however, is a dry desert; which means that the probability of corrosion is significantly lower. This preserves the rocks in their pristine condition and they are also easier to find due to the contrast between dark rocks and white ice sheet.
2. Emilio Marcos Palma is the first human born on the continent of Antarctica.
In 1977, Argentina sent a pregnant woman to Antarctica, hoping to claim partial territory of the continent. Since 1940, Argentina and Chile have been competing for the ownership of Antarctica. Although many other countries joined in to claim part of it, no one owns the land or has actual sovereignty. In 1959, 45 countries signed the Antarctic Treaty that blocks any one nation from trying to take the continent as their own.
Even after the treaty was signed, Argentina and Chile competed among each other. In 1977, Chilean President Augusto Pinochet visited Antarctica to show his country’s dominance and in retaliation to his actions, Argentina sent a pregnant woman to the barren and unpopulated continent of Antarctica to stake their claim. On January 7, 1978, Silvia Morello de Palma, gave birth to Emilio Palma, becoming the first woman to give birth in the continent.
3. Antarctica is the only continent without a time zone.
Antarctica rests on every line of longitude but due to a wide range of territorial claims on the continent, there is no time zone. Scientists who conduct experiments or are on expeditions go by their home country’s time zone or pay attention to the next supply drop off deadline.
4. It was once a tropical paradise.
It might be hard to believe that the coldest, most desolate place on Earth was once a green and beautiful place. Geological drilling under Antarctica suggests that the place was once home to many warm-climate mammals and has been through global warming before. The study also suggests that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was 1,000 parts per million (ppm) more than 5 million years ago. Scientists predict that with the levels rising this fast, it won’t be long for Antarctica to reach 1,000 ppm. (source)
5. Antarctica is the only continent without reptiles or snakes.
This might not come as a surprise since reptiles are not capable of producing their own heat but rely on heat from the environment. In frigid climates, they simply cannot warm up; thus making it hard to survive. This is why there are no Arctic snakes or reptiles that are capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. The continent is however home to 17 different species of penguins.
6. An American scientist working at a base camp in Antarctica used Tinder to find a match who was working 45 minutes away from him.
Social media makes it easier to connect with people with just a few clicks. But, for an American scientist, finding a friend, or a match in this case, came in an unusual way. The scientist who wishes to be anonymous so he doesn’t get in trouble for using base camp’s valuable broadband to find love has been trying to find a mate for a long time.
After searching in a broader spectrum, he decided to just use Antarctica to which he found another scientist who was camping literally 45 minutes away from him. The pair swiped right with each other and according to Tinder, it’s they are the first match to have ever happened in Antarctica. (source)
7. There are two civilian settlements on the great white continent of Antarctica.
Although the 1959 treaty bars countries from claiming territory in Antarctica, there are two civilian settlements that were established before the treaty. This makes them immune and the only colonies to ever exist on the continent. Villa las Estrellas is a Chilean colony whereas Esperanza is an Argentinian base with around 43 inhabitants.
Although they are domestic communities, they are still used as research bases and not much outside activity is seen all year round. Esperanza alone uses around 4,800 US gallons of fuel per year to provide electricity for heating as well as studies of limnology, glaciology, seismology, oceanography and other scientific studies.
8. It is home to about 70 percent of the planet’s fresh water, and 90 percent of the planet’s freshwater ice.
The highest, coldest, driest, and windiest of the world’s continents also contains more freshwater than any other place on Earth. Nearly 99% of this land mass is covered with an ice cap. Around 90% of the fresh water on the Earth’s surface is held in these ice sheets. During winter, sea ice stretches as far as 1000 km (621 miles) outwards from the coastline.
9. Antarctica is the only continent that is not colonized by ants.
Ants have conquered the entire globe with the exception of Antarctica. Antarctica and a few other islands are the only place on Earth that ants have yet to colonize. A 2006 study found that they are as old as dinosaurs. These little critters are tiny but are still capable of lifting things several times their own body weight. Their strength however comes in numbers, not their size since they are able to coordinate their activities with incredible precision.
10. Since it does not rain or snow in several parts of the continent, Antartica is considered a desert.
Antarctica has two seasons: summer and winter. During summer, the continent is tilted in space and the direction of the sun. While in this period, the place is always lit up since it’s always sunny. In winter, Antarctica is on the side of Earth tilted away from the sun; making it dark all the time.
It is also a desert since it does not receive much rain or snow. When it snows, the snow does not melt and instead, builds up to make large thick sheets of ice. Apart from that, the continent also has no plants or trees. The only plants that are capable of surviving such frigid temperatures are moss and algae.
11. Antarctica is roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined.
Antarctica has an area of about 5.4 million square miles (14 million square kilometers). The US is about half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; more than twice the size of the European Union. Mexico however is slightly less than three times the size of Texas. But, the continent covered by a layer of ice is roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined.
12. It has an active volcano.
Despite being the coldest and driest part of Earth, Antarctica is home to Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on the planet. Formed about 1.3 million years ago and located 12,448 feet above sea level, lava can be seen flowing occasionally as well as steam rising from the summit can be spotted from far away.